Saturday, March 23, 2013

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Scalp Massage...and Then Some.

"Twin vibrators are very effective in giving scalp manipulations, and no barber shop should be without this type of equipment." -Standardized Textbook of Barbering, Third Edition

There was a time when barber textbooks instructed the young barber how to use technology to his advantage in building his career. Chapters on scalp manipulations and facials took up large portions of barbering textbooks. The information is useful, the technology now obsolete, and the diction suggestive and hilarious. Headings and passages such as: Principle of Vibrator Use, Using Twin Vibrators, "A single vibrator is a force if  not properly manipulated," "The vibrator be handled with slow, rotary or stroking movements, instead of hurried zig-zag movements over the face, thereby insuring the effectiveness of the vibrations," are common in both the Standardized Barbers' Manual and Standardized Textbook of Barbering. Thanks to the passage of time, the sexual revolution, and advances in technology, classic barber textbooks not only teach us something...they make us laugh too.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Unbecoming Hairstyles for the Bald(ing) Man

While both hysterical and heart wrenching, the comb over is probably the worst option for a balding man to pursue when considering a new hairstyle.

It is not worth typing any more words about the bad idea that is the comb over. But what is worth warning the bald(ing) fellow about, is four cornered flat top. This style may have worked for Kid n Play,
but it does not work for the bald(ing) gentleman. Now, I suppose that it could work for a man with a receding hairline, depending on the degree of recession, but it is no bueno for those kings without a crown.
The reason that the four corner flat top is a no go for a man who has lost the hair on the top of his head is that it evokes images of end zone pylons.
It is like telling people to stare at the area between the points, screaming out to the world to stare at the hair that is no longer there. Make sure to tell your barber to take those edges in if he or she insists on letting those wings fly. So if an old barber tells you that you should keep the back corners of that flat top because it will make you less bald...just say no.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Elvis Did Not Invent Rock n Roll...and He Was Not the First One with a Pompadour

Where did that goofy poof that can look just right with the proper amount of product and je ne sais quoi come from? The dangerous haircut is not indigenous to American soil, much to the chagrin of a small group of tonsorial history revisionists. The hairstyle mostly associated with greaser and fetishized Americana culture is named after a French noblewoman. A woman important enough in her time, that she was eulogized by Voltaire. Instead of conjuring up images of rockabilly cats with slicked back hair, maybe the pompadour should make us think of vast panniers (side hoops) and tiny shoes...

Madame de Pompadour, member of the French court, lover of the arts, and chief mistress of of King Louis XV lived from 1721-1764. Of course, her name is most associated with a curious hairstyle that she brought to the court. Actually, the name comes from a region in central France, named after the long defunct House of Pompadour. Madame de Pompadour was born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, changed it to Jeanne Antoinette d'Etiolles when she married, and did not actually become the Marquise of Pompadour until 1745, when Louis XV purchased the marquisate of Pompadour. The King gave the estate, coat of arms, and the title of the marquisate to Jeanne Antoinette, making her a Marquise (upper mid level aristocrat) and unknowingly making hairstyle history. That is how she got her name, whether she was the first person to comb back the front portion of her hair over the ratty mess directly behind it is lost to history.

That is what's in a name for the pompadour, at least historically speaking. The beloved mass that sits atop many a greasers' head was first attributed to an 18th century French aristocrat, not Elvis. Now, why that mass tickles the fancy of so many people is another story altogether... 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The World's Most Uncomfortable Shirt

After a long day of clipping, snipping, and ripping, the crimper arrives home covered in the hair of others. Slightly unsettling upon analysis, but still a fact of life, the stray hair of customers makes barbers and stylists around the world itch. A quick shower and a change of shirt makes the itch go away for another day, and the residue of an honest day's work is gone for good.  But what if the choice to wear an undercoat of fur is made by a particularly ascetic sort? Then my friends we have a Cilice.

It's a hairshirt, literally a shirt made of hair that serves as a means of mortification and as a way to resist those pesky temptations of the flesh. To put it bluntly, if you wear a hairshirt, you will be uncomfortable and you will (most likely) not get laid. That is not to say that there isn't a community for those with a hairshirt fetish (there is), but still, a flea and mite infested vest of fur is usually not included in one of those 10 Ways to Spice Up Your Sex Life articles. So then why would one chose to slip into something a little less comfortable? Use of the cilice dates back thousands of years, not only among religious figures, but also among lay people. Fat cat landowners used to slide on a hairshirt under their fine clothing as a sartorial antithesis to their lives of luxury and comfort. That would be the modern day equivalent of one of the executives from Goldman Sachs wearing a cilice under a bespoke suit. Hairshirts sound uncomfortable because they are uncomfortable.

One of the most famous hairshirts in history was worn by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Through one of the worst misunderstandings in British history, four knights sailed to England (they were in Normandy at the time) to carry out what they interpreted to be Henry II's call for Becket's assassination. On December 29, 1170, Thomas Becket was separated from his brain at the altar of the Canterbury Cathedral. When the mess was cleaned up, and monks were preparing his body for burial, they discovered that Becket was wearing a hairshirt. It was obvious that he had been wearing the cilice for a long time, because fleas poured out of it like lava when it was removed from his body. After a couple of miracles and some papal razzle-dazzle, Thomas Becket was cannonized by Pope Alexander III (they same Pope who issued the edict that started the whole barber-surgeon thing) and became henceforth known as St. Thomas of Canterbury. Henry II was furious about the assassination, and the knights were disgraced. To regain the favor of the Pope, King Henry donned the hairshirt and walked the streets of Canterbury bare foot while he was flogged by eighty monks. Then to cap off the evening, he spent the night with St. Thomas' corpse in the crypt. In lieu of a dozen roses, the Pope accepted the act of atonement, and forgave the King.

Thomas Becket is not the only historical figure known to have worn a hairshirt, St. Patrick, Charlemagne, Henry IV and Prince Henry the Navigator are all said to have been clad in the not so comfy garment at some point in their lives (or deaths). This makes a person wonder why there isn't at least a short unit on Great Hairshirts in History included in high school history curricula. According to Belinda Carlisle, heaven may be a place on Earth, but no one seems to be too important for a hairshirt. Next time you complain about alien hairs on your skin, remember, it could be a hell of a lot worse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What in the Hell is Barber's Itch?

It's staph on your face. Well, technically, it could be another bacteria, but Staphylococcus aureus is usually the culprit. Barber's Itch is a variation of folliculitis known as folliculitis barbae. Along with its cousin, the much sexier hot tub folliculitis, Barber's Itch has been making white heads pop up around hair follicles for centuries. Folliculitis is the result an infection of the hair follicles by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. When a fungal infection occurs, this is known as tinea barbae, and if the infection goes deeper it earns the more menacing title of tinea sycosis. The common name for tinea is ringworm, a condition well known among shower-averse high school wrestlers. Follicles of the face can easily be damaged by the slow drag of a dull razor, and an infection can ensue if the damaged area is exposed to a pathogen. Before sanitation laws were enacted, barbershops were not always the cleanest of establishments. Dirty towels, lather brushes, and barber's fingers could leave a man with a shave that would last in a not so fun way, this is where the term Barber's Itch comes from.

Barber's Itch is not a life threatening condition (that name is way too euphemistic). Mild cases tend to go away on their own, and persistent or recurring cases can be treated with antibiotics. Now, there were no antibiotics to treat Barber's Itch in nineteenth century barbershops. There were prescribed medical treatments available, but many men had no knowledge of these treatments. What's more, the further West you went in the US, the less likely you were to find a doctor. In some places, Barber-Surgeons, were still regarded as the community medical experts. What many barbers did have was Dr. Chase's Recipes or Information for Everybody, published in 1866. Under the heading Teeter, Ringworm, and Barber's Itch, the good doctor lists a curious remedy: To Cure - - Take the best Cuba Cigars, smoke one a sufficient length of time to accumulate 1/4 or 1/2 inch of ashes upon the end of the cigar, now wet the whole surface of the sore with the saliva from the mouth, then rub the ashes from the end of the cigar thoroughly into and all over the sore, do this three times a day, and inside of a week all will be smooth and well. I speak from extensive experience; half of one cigar cured myself when a barber could not undertake to shave me. I wonder if Dr. Chase made house calls with that mixture of spit and ash smeared on his face?

Dr. Chase's book is now an artifact, and Cuban cigars are still illegal to import into the US. Luckily, that whole modern medicine thing has allowed men to treat Barber's Itch without breaking the law and looking like a full ash tray left out in the rain.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Hazards of the Hot Towel (Part II)

The biggest mob hit in barbershop history occurred on October 25, 1957, when Albert Anastasia, leader of what would become the Gambino Crime Family was gunned down in the Park Sheraton Hotel while he lie with a hot towel on his face.
     Umberto Anastasio, the son of an Italian railway worker, immigrated to New York in 1919, securing a job as a (corrupt) longshoreman. Within two years of his arrival, Albert was convicted of murdering a fellow longshoreman, and was sentenced to death. While waiting to take a seat in Ol' Sparky (as the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison was affectionately known), Anastasia caught the eye of prison barber Jimmy "The Shoe" DeStevano. "The Shoe" saw himself not only as the finest barber in a maximum security prison in Ossning, New York, but also as a sort of mafia talent scout. He was so impressed by Anastasia after witnessing his ruthlessness in a chow line fight, that he alerted the boss of bosses, Lucky Luciano of this diamond in the rough. In 1922, Anastasia was magically granted a retrial that eventually led to his acquittal.

As Anastasia ascended the mob ladder, he left plenty of blood on each rung. He earned the nickname "Lord High Executioner" during his time as the leader of the infamous band of hit men known as Murder, Inc. He was a mad man, a man whose job it was to kill, and Albert Anastasia loved his job. Naturally, Anastasia's delight in homicide caused some concern among New York's Five Families, but not enough for them to take action against their most motivated employee. But after a thirty plus year career in the mob, the Mad Hatter's career ended in a hail of gunfire.

Lucky Luciano decreed that three groups were ineligible for contracts: No civilians. No politicians. No mob bosses. Anybody else involved in the underworld was fair game. "We only kill each other," as Bugsy Segal once quipped. By 1952, Anastasia had ordering the killing of members of two of those groups. In this case, two out of three is bad. After ordering the murder of civilian Arnold Schuster and boss Vincent Magano, Albert was making everybody nervous. The problem was that by then, he was the boss.

So the Lord High Executioner wasn't the world's best boss. Something had to be done, because it was clear that he needed to be relieved of his duties. Through a series of deals and conspiracies that have been documented and surmised by writers far more interested in the details of Cosa Nostra history, the green light was given to whack the boss. At around 10:15 AM on October 25, 1957, with Anastasia peacefully reclining in chair number four, two men with scarves covering their faces like Old West bank robbers walked in to Arthur Grasso's Barber Shop. The men walked past the cash register that Arthur Grasso was working, and straight to chair number four. With guns drawn, the barber Arbisi was pushed out of the way, and the men proceeded to riddle Albert Anastasia with bullets. After being hit by the first bullet, Anastasia sprang from the chair and lunged at who he thought were his attackers (he was actually lunging at their reflections in the mirror). A few bullets later, Albert was on the floor, and the coup d' grace was delivered to the left side of his head. The assassins turned around and ran out the door. That was it for Albert Anastasia.

The picture of the slain mob boss made the front page of the New York Times the next day. The image could be mistaken for a pile of white towels if it weren't for Anastasia's shirtless midsection and his outstretched right hand signaling that a human being lie underneath. That lifeless mass had been one of the most powerful mafioso in American history, but in the end, a penchant for murder reduced him to an innocuous bloody pile of flesh.

What do the stories of Sam Amatuna and Albert Anastasia tell us about the the hazards of the hot towel?
While completely irrational, fears of assassination are not unfounded. Customers have been shot while relaxing under a soothing hot towel. But truthfully, there is no causal link between their demise and the hot towel. The chances of being assassinated while in the barber's chair are infinitely small. That is unless you are a hot tempered mobster embroiled in a feud.